ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, December 03, 2006
Vol. 41 - No 27

Come one and all, these golden beaches beckon

By John McCallum

The beach was crowded this morning. Along the three mile stretch of golden sands there were three tourists and two fishermen. The tracks left by the turtles coming ashore to lay their eggs during the night were still visible. A flock of egrets were busily picking their way through the herbage on the edge of the sand only five yards from where I was sitting enjoying my morning coffee.

It is a far cry from the pre-tsunami days when this beach was a hive of activity and hotels enjoyed 80% occupancy. It is the same situation all along this previously popular tourist coast and in other tourist areas of Sri Lanka.

Unawatuna Beach

It struck me that what the major natural disaster of the tsunami couldn’t accomplish a few terrorist activities seems to have achieved with major consequences for a large part of the Sri Lankan economy. The General Manager of one hotel put it succinctly when he indicated that, with the assistance and generosity of the world, the tsunami-hit businesses were able to repair the infrastructure and get ready for customers. The industry, and the nation, would now like the opportunity to repay this generosity by providing a service which will be second to none.

One guest house I visited had all rooms vacant. The restaurant had only provided six lunches during the previous week. The income from this was totally inadequate to either meet the running costs, especially the wages of the staff, or feed local unemployed youth who do small odd jobs specially created for them by the manager. Indeed, the knock-on-effect of the lack of tourists is being felt by every family in this idyllic tourist area.

I called in to the Villa Ocean View where I have spent many happy days. The staff/ guest ratio currently runs at around 20:1 which can be a little overpowering with everyone wishing to ensure the guests are well looked after. The restaurant and the three bars are major temptations to over indulge. The buffets with their various themes allow guests to explore the wonderful range of Sri Lankan cuisine and also enjoy dishes from eastern and western countries.

I did have the intention of visiting one of my favourite hotels in Polonnaruwa, but my great friend and the current manager indicated that at this point in time they were very quiet but hoping for a late surge in tourist numbers. He suggested that I would miss the usual ambience and would be further saddened with the general lack of activities. I heeded his advice but look forward to my next trip there when the industry gets back to normal.

This morning I took a stroll into Wadduwa and met Monica, the elephant, and her handler. Could it have been a look of despair on her face? When I reached the town it was devoid of tourists. Shop keepers are suffering and the volume of sales even for the local population has dropped considerably due to the fall in tourist trade and the large number of jobs it normally provides.

And what of security? Of course I am biased, having lived in Sri Lanka for several years, and I still feel absolutely safe with one exception - trying to cross the road.

Anyone who has yet to visit Sri Lanka would be well advised to take this opportunity to make a first visit. Late bookings can offer a real value for money holiday and to have a winter break with sunshine every day, even now at the end of the monsoon, is very attractive. You can get a 30-day tourist visa at the airport on arrival and it will cost you ten dollars from January - great value. I hope to see you soon - Ayubowan.

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Copyright 2006 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.